Announcing a new project: Higher Education’s Big Rethink

How will higher education change in response to this extraordinary year?

I’ve been writing and presenting on this topic for a while, and now am delighted to announce a new project addressing it.  I’ve been working on it this summer, alongside a great team.

Higher Education’s Big Rethink is a Georgetown University graduate class about how academia is experiencing two huge 2020 developments: the COVID-19 pandemic and the national mobilization against racism.  The class is happening right now – actually, the first class is ongoing.  We’re holding another during the fall.

Georgetown hall

The Big Rethink addresses the topic by exploring several deep questions:

How Can We Unpack the Meaning of Fall Adaptation?

What is the State of the Teaching and Learning Agenda?

What is the Potential for Justice-Focused Innovation and Transformation?

To that end the project has created several different components to different degrees of public availability.

To begin with, there’s the graduate seminar itself, hosted by Georgetown’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s program. This meets weekly and includes discussions, collaborative writing, and presentations.  It takes place entirely online, due to the pandemic.  The legendary Randy Bass leads the class, along with other LDT faculty, outside speakers, and staff.  The students are great, cocreating the class as we build it during the events it describes.

Another part of the Big Rethink that I’ve been working hard on is a set of interviews with brilliant people on this academic transformation.  Scholars, activists, professors, presidents, entrepreneurs, each with a distinct approach to the topic: I and graduate students talked with each for an hour or more.

Students and faculty collaboratively built up a question set we put to all interviewees. Students also wrote up biographies of each speaker and identified key points in their discourse.  The first week’s set is now live and available here.

For example, we met with Johns Hopkins University political scientist Lester Spence, who addressed campus actions against racism and the ways we can redesign teaching and learning:

Or our conversation with University of Pittsburgh professor of educational foundations Gina Garcia, a specialist in Hispanic-serving institutions, and who spoke of how COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter revealed inequities within higher education:

You can find the whole series here.  You can also sign up here for updates, as we’re adding recordings nearly every day.  We have 15+ hours already done and further interviews scheduled over the next few weeks.

There are additional projects under way within the Big Rethink. I’ll post about them as they develop.  For example, we’re looking at how to invite sharing stories about academic transformation, especially those told by instructional designers.  More to come.

The Big Rethink is coming to you from Georgetown’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s program.  It’s one I’m proud to teach in.  It’s the kind of work LDT does. And LDT’s approach to education informs the Big Rethink:

A critical studies approach to higher education.

A vision of learning that is transformative and holistic, equitable and inclusive.

A transdisciplinary approach to learning design that integrates the learning sciences and design methodologies with creativity and making.

A focus on the future as an object of study.

An agile and broad approach to learning design that is practical and applied to professional contexts.

A commitment to social and racial justice and the goal of positively shaping the future of higher education in the service of the common good.

See the future line?  YES.

It’s an exciting project, and one I hope helps people in and adjacent to academia think and plan during this unusual time.

More to come!

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11 Responses to Announcing a new project: Higher Education’s Big Rethink

  1. margit watts says:

    Wonderful project. Important work!

  2. Charles Morrissey says:

    Would there be a Big Rethink without the virus? Who has the duty to implement
    recommendations from the various groups in the study? What has changed in higher ed in the last 400 years?

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Greetings, Charles. Thank you for these questions.

      “Would there be a Big Rethink without the virus?”
      COVID-19 was certainly the first driver, chronologically.

      “Who has the duty to implement recommendations from the various groups in the study?”
      No one has that duty.

      “What has changed in higher ed in the last 400 years?”
      Quite a bit! What do you have in mind?

    • Glen S McGhee says:

      Great question about the last 400 years!
      I’d start with Randall Collins, The Credential Society, just reissued, 1979/2019.

      Next, there is Rousas Rushdoony’s quirky but insightful, The Messianic Character of American Education (1963) for local education, and John Taylor Gatto, The Underground History of American Education, for a more global view, both available as pdf. Let me know if you need the links.

  3. Charles Morrissey says:

    A valuable case study for the Georgetown class is the announcement that U Arizona
    has acquired Ashford- why?

  4. Congrats Bryan and Georgetown LDT! Let us know if we can help!

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